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Why America Hates the Spurs

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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"I don't understand -- why don't people like us?" Bruce Bowen asked.

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You really want to know?

"Go ahead."

Because you and the mean ol' San Antonio Spurs ruin happy endings for players and teams whom fans want to see keep playing. Oh, and also because you're too reliable and humble, in a league where mouthy and enigmatic happens.

"Is that it?" the Spurs' veteran forward said. "We're not who people want to see? That's funny, because when Ron Artest was having issues and the league was having image problems, all you heard was, 'Why can't teams be more like the Spurs?'

"The public thinks they want other things -- all the chest-pounding and screaming. But at the end of the day, quietly, parents want their kids to grow up in a way that they work hard, keep their mouth shut and act like you've been there before."

Bowen spoke from his cellphone in New Orleans on Monday night, three hours before his team methodically knocked out the Hornets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals -- three hours before a player less than a month away from 37 years old, maybe the premier perimeter defender in NBA history, frustrated Chris Paul and some bold kid named Jannero Pargo, who thought he was going to save the day for New Orleans before Bowen got in his grille late and the rickety Spurs sent a bunch of postseason adolescents home for the season.

Palms out, feet shuffling laterally, limbs fluttering like bat wings, Bowen was a microcosm of the franchise the past decade -- that annoying insect impossible to shoo away.

"We're goin' back to Podunk, Texas, again," Charles Barkley bemoaned, shaking his head in mock disgust on TNT after San Antonio held off New Orleans. Summing up most NBA fans' feelings outside south Texas, Barkley added: "Damn. They're like cockroaches. They won't die."

Watching the Spurs reject another marketable NBA plot -- this one featured young Chris Paul and the city he helped raise from Hurricane Katrina's ruin (a big seller at the All-Star Game in February) -- it's becoming clear that Bowen, Tim Duncan and their teammates are this millennium's Larry Holmes.

The Spurs are among the least- loved champions in the history of sport, right alongside Holmes, the former heavyweight great who had the misfortune of following boxing's king of kings, Muhammad Ali.

They've got what Grant Hill once actually called "Larry Holmes syndrome." He used the term to describe the impossible responsibility he, Jerry Stackhouse and other young skywalkers had following in Michael Jordan's footsteps. But it's just as apt for the Spurs, who in 1999 became the first team to win a championship after Jordan and the Incredi-Bulls -- San Antonio's first of four titles the past decade.


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